Original URL:  http://www.arizonarepublic.com/opinions/articles/1102pimentel02.html

Horne not likely to benefit Latinos

By O. Ricardo Pimentel
The Arizona Republic columnist
Nov. 2, 2002

Jay Blanchard and Tom Horne are vying for the office of state superintendent
of public instruction.

Here's what comes to mind. Horne's campaign in the primary against incumbent
Jaime Molera was among the most divisive and polarizing in recent history.
We shouldn't forget, and he shouldn't be rewarded.

Blanchard, a former Marine and now a college professor, strikes me as a
thoughtful educator who will not hew to tired old practices. He speaks of
giving public schools the creative flexibility to succeed.

If there is one thing of which all of us should be certain, we will have to
be creative, specific and flexible if we are to address the unmet needs of
Arizona's Latino students.

Arizona's future is tied to reversing a legacy of low academic achievement
among Latinos, a population that will very shortly comprise half of the
state's entry-level workforce.

Horne has also been a legislator, but his major claim to educational
experience has been as a longtime president of the Paradise Valley Unified
School District.

This district is about 84 percent Anglo. Latinos are the largest minority
group in the district, at about 11 percent.

Horne's district did relatively well in the state's recent rankings of
schools as underperforming, maintaining, improving and excelling. Only two
of the district's schools were listed as underperforming.

Point for Horne. However, perhaps as an indication of how out-of-the-box
Horne would be as state superintendent, the two schools listed as
underperforming have many Latino students - Palomino and Campo Bello
elementary schools.

About 70 percent of Palomino's students are Latino (most English learners).
Nearly a quarter of students at Campo Bello are Latino. Both have
significant portions of students in the free- and reduced-lunch program.

English learners in Horne's district are only about 8 percent, though they
are about 70 percent of the district's Latino students.

This is a difficult population to teach. But, given that Horne is now
holding himself up as the best guy to lead us out of our educational
problems and that Latinos - many English learners among them - are a
linchpin population if we are to succeed, it's reasonable to expect more.

Parts of the Paradise Valley district are affluent. Portions are anything
but. So understand, significant numbers of English learners and low income
students are a recipe for struggling schools all over the state. But
Palomino School in particular is precisely the kind of school that we must
improve if we are to help Latinos achieve.

It's no accident that nearly 55 percent of all Latino students are in Valley
districts in which a quarter or more of the schools are underperforming.
It's no accident that these schools also have many poor students.

I will note also that at least four other schools also have significant
Latino populations, though none as high as Palomino. Still, I would expect a
better showing for a candidate who is promising to fix what ails us on
Latino education.

But, mostly, I remember how Horne, in extensive TV spots during the primary,
charged that Molera was not enforcing the state's ban on bilingual

Forget for the moment the fact that the charges were simply false. Why use
such a wedge issue at all?

Intentional or not, the effect was to remind Republican voters that there
was a - gasp! - Latino in the race. In fact, one who didn't agree that we
should ban bilingual education, a program that at best only had about 20
percent of Latino students enrolled in it at any given time.

In other words, it was a moot issue that served only to divide. It worked.

I note also that the National Limited English Proficiency Advocacy Task
Force has said it will file charges with the federal government that
Paradise Valley discriminates against parents and students with limited
English skills. The district denies the charge and Horne says it is
politically motivated.

Likely. But something else makes me think about the correlation between
smoke and fire. The Arizona Hispanic Community Forum, a credible
organization, and Horne appear to be implacable foes over the issue of
Latino education.

All in all, stuff to consider given the importance of Latino education to

Reach Pimentel at ricardo.pimentel@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8210.
His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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